Court gavel resting on books and wooden desk.

Minnesota sent an EPR bill to its governor in a budget bill. | Rawf8/Shutterstock

Minnesota is poised to be the fifth U.S. state to pass extended producer responsibility for packaging after adding the program language into the 2024 Environment and Natural Resources Budget, which is now on the governor’s desk. 

The text of Packaging Waste and Cost Reduction Act was added into the budget, which re-passed the House on May 17 on a vote of 70-56 after some amendments. On May 19, it was sent to Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat. Minnesota’s legislative session ended May 20. 

An Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee press release noted that  the “EPR provisions are a major step forward in dealing with solid waste by ensuring that packaging producers are responsible for the waste they create and are incentivized to increase recycled content.” 

State Rep. Sydney Jordan, sponsor of the original Packaging Waste and Cost Reduction Act, said in the press release that “across Minnesota, we are inundated with packaging, from our doorsteps to store shelves.” 

“Packaging waste and printed paper now account for 40% of our garbage,” said Jordan, who is also vice chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee. “The burden of managing this ever-growing deluge of packaging waste currently falls on local governments – and taxpayers. Today’s bill takes steps to ensure the producers of this waste are paying their fair share.”

Ameripen, an industry group representing packaging producers, announced that it supports the EPR language in the bill, calling it “unprecedented in its unique framework that aligns with Minnesota’s national leadership on strong recycling and composting infrastructure.”

“Minnesota’s packaging producer responsibility legislation is a fair compromise that establishes a model of shared responsibility and is aligned with Ameripen’s key principles,” said Dan Felton, executive director. “This legislation supports a system that is reliable, efficient and effective.” 

The American Forest and Paper Association opposed the bill, as it has opposed EPR in other states, due to the potential for paper to subsidize the cost of recycling plastic. AF&PA members own two MRFs in Minnesota, a press release noted. 

Dylan de Thomas, vice president of public policy and government affairs team at The Recycling Partnership, worked on the ground in Minnesota to support the bill. He told Resource Recycling that the bill is “the fruit of many, many months of hard negotiations and work.”

“Really, it’s the fruit of many years of stakeholder efforts to be able to deliver an EPR bill that works for Minnesotans,” de Thomas said.

A familiar framework, but no legislated target rates

The EPR program proposed in the budget has several elements now familiar in the U.S. EPR landscape: a needs assessment, a producer responsibility organization, eco-modulation and target reduction, reuse and recycling goals. 

Notable exemptions from the covered material list include paper products used for a newspaper or magazine print publications and covered materials that a producer distributes to another producer.

If enacted, the bill would require producers to choose a producer responsibility organization by Jan. 1, 2025. The PRO would then have to submit a stewardship plan by Oct. 1, 2028. The bill allows for multiple PROs after the first PRO plan expires.

A Producer Responsibility Advisory Board would also be established under the bill, which would have to hold its first meeting by March 1, 2025. 

The needs assessments, which would be due by the end of 2025, would cover existing reduction, reuse, recycling and composting capacity for each covered material; proposals for five-year target goals for those areas; estimations of how much post consumer recycled content is currently used; proposed metrics to measure progress in achieving the target goals; evaluations of investments needed to increase rates; end market research; current contamination levels; and an assessment of intentionally added toxic substances.

A workplace conditions and equity study and a covered materials pollution and cleanup study are also authorized in the bill. 

The commissioner of the state Pollution Control Agency is tasked with establishing statewide recycling, composting, reuse, return and reduction target rates, as well as post-consumer content requirements. 

The PRO will reimburse local programs for the net costs of covered services in a phased-in fashion. By Feb. 1, 2029, the PRO will have to reimburse at least 50% of the annual net costs, rising to 75% by Feb. 1, 2030 and 90% by Feb. 1, 2031. 

Reimbursable costs include the cost to collect, transport and process covered material, adjusting downward for the average fair market value of the covered material in the region. Contamination management and administrative costs are also included.

Finally, the bill notes that “it is the intent of the legislature that if a bottle deposit return system is enacted in the future, it will be harmonized with this act.” 

The original version of the Packaging Waste and Cost Reduction Act included target rates for recycling and composting, source reduction and post consumer recycled content, but those were removed from the final bill text. Instead, the commissioner will set those targets, consulting with the PRO. 

Ameripen lauded that change, stating in this EPR framework, the PRO can “remain focused on core activities without the burdens imposed by EPR laws in other states, such as artificial timelines for arbitrary recycling targets; mandates to fund recycling for massive commercial operations that can manage their own recycling costs or landfilling; and unrelated mandates around packaging composition.” 

“The Minnesota packaging EPR legislation before Governor Walz demonstrates that each state is unique and should approach any recycling, composting and packaging policy by first considering its existing infrastructure and laws,” Ameripen added. “It also reflects compromise, and a reminder that legislative debates do not produce perfect policy, but rather a reflection of what may be possible at any given moment.” 

De Thomas of The Recycling Partnership noted that the targets are going to be set based on the needs assessment, “so I would see it as a necessary functional compromise.”

“It will deliver the strong environmental and economic outcomes you want to see with bills like this,” he added.

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